Zeroflash Stand Alone Entries
This page is specifically designed to showcase submissions that are out with the monthly competition remit.
Feel free to submit and if I like it, up it goes. Try for character, I like character, but that’s just me.
300 word limit, unless it’s incredible, then you’ll get a few extra words to play with.
Original submissions ONLY, please.
Do your best to format as Times New Roman and 12 points.
Bernstein Breaks His Mental Log-Jam at the Gates of Route 66
by Todd Mercer
“You the owner?”
“I am. Cook, accountant and head bottle-washer. “
“Perfect location. That crazy sign will catch plenty of fish—it caught me. I guess from here they’re striking out for the promised land, or what have you.”
“Or else coming off an exhausting drive, yeah. Can I take your order?”
“I’ll try a hamburger.”
“Hamburger?? Hot dog, hot dog.”
“Only kidding, bring me a Vienna, loaded up.”
“And a Coke.”
“We got RC.”
Henry or Mister Henry ties his apron, starts assembling my dog.
Thinking on that road out the window, aiming westward. A man could clear out and not come back. I should pull together a show about a couple regular fellows driving open country, wherever their free spirits carry them. They’d be a real team, watching each other’s backs, getting in scrapes and burying the bodies together, so to speak. For the ending they could drive off a cliff while singing and holding hands. Better revise that, make the characters two women. Fewer questions.
“What’s your story? You coming or going, buddy?”
“I’m conducting the symphony tonight, then zip back to the Big Apple.”
“Nice to have genuine culture walk through these doors. Been open a week, and twice Puerto Rican hoodlums from Humboldt Park came in and rumbled with local boys outside. That’s bad for business. I love all people, mister, no doubt, but some in Cicero don’t like what they’re seeing these days. If you know what I’m saying.
“Here’s your hot dog, enjoy.”
“I’ve got an idea. Can you spare extra napkins? It’s write fast or lose the thought.”
He slaps a towering stack of them in front of me, and winks.
“Everything’s free in America,” he says.
I’m putting that road story on the back burner, just for now.
TODD MERCER won the Grand Rapids Festival Flash Fiction Award. His digital chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance, appeared at Right Hand Pointing. Mercer’s recent work appears in 100 Word Story, Literary Orphans and Praxis.
The Licking of Envelopes
by Gary Duncan
We spent a sexless night on a lumpy mattress in her living room, surrounded by towers of teetering books. I remind her that it’s morally reprehensible what she’s doing, but she hands me a well-thumbed Dean Koontz and an envelope and tells me it has to go out sharpish, so chop-chop. The address is on the laptop, she says, and make sure your handwriting’s neat.
“This is stealing,” I say, sniffing the book. It smells of old people, of desperation. “Stealing. From charity shops. For profit. You’re fucking evil.”
She doesn’t seem too concerned about the moral ambiguity of it all. “Who fucking cares? It’s only books.”
The laptop is buried under a pile of showbiz autobiographies. Danny Dyer, Richard Hammond, a young woman with an alarmingly orange face and unfeasibly white teeth.
She says she thought I’d be more impressed. Morally reprehensible or not, she says she makes a tidy little income out of it, so fuck you very much. Two grand last month. She’s got a storage unit near the railway station and an asthmatic ex-boyfriend who helps with posting and packaging and the licking of envelopes.
“A growth business,” she says, hands on hips as she watches me write down the address. “Careful. No scribbling.”
Her favourite shop is the Red Cross on Blackstone Street. Chocka, she says: she could fill a wheelbarrow and no-one would bat an eyelid. And the Marie Curie on West Street. All those old biddies behind the counter, bless them. And the Oxfam on Willet Road, but you have to be careful there because there’s this new woman, a thickset Asian who works Mondays and Thursdays and eyeballs you like a cranky old hawk.
I hand her the envelope, but she thrusts it back at me.
“You forgot to lick.”
by Jamie Stedmond
Eileen has a heart in her chest like a beach pebble. The days have moved like washing tides and worn it smooth and bare. Today came in like any other, and seems to be going out the same. The LUAS is rattling and fluorescent. The sun, having bowed out early, has left her and the other passengers with only the pale and eerie light to suspend them through the dark. She stares vaguely at her half-reflection in the window. She looks tired, that woman in the window, the way she can see past her, the buildings rolling by behind her. She hardly looks there at all.
The wind whips at her, salty and sharp, as she steps off. She pulls her coat tight around her. She must get a new one, she thinks, one better suited to the cold. Of course, it’ll be getting warmer soon. Still, better to be prepared next winter. Realising what you should once it’s too late to do it; that’s always the way isn’t it. Her shoes clack like a tongue on the pavement. In her head she pictures all the turns and streets she’ll have to walk before she gets home. Retracing these steps in reality makes the journey feel twice as long.
Eileen fixes her key in the door. Finally. She blinks at the softer, warmer light of home. She sniffs. Something smells french and slightly burnt. Then she sees him, the same him, but with balloons today, and she feels a pebble drop cold and sickly into her stomach. She hadn’t quite forgotten, but only half-remembered, and so she speaks the words of heart oh too tired to be tender.
by Bruce Costello
“You ask ME whether you have a right decision made?” Professor Vogdanovich glared across his desk. “Why not you ask your mummy and daddy?”
“My mother doesn’t understand me,” replied the student, fidgeting nervously with the pad in her hand, “and my father’s dead.”
“Mothers never do,” snorted the professor, “and fathers usually are.” He stood up to relieve pressure on his hemorrhoids, and plonked down again with a grunt. “How the devil you think me being lecturer of 19th century Russian literature make me to help with messy woman love life? Foolish girl! Bozhe moy!”
“I’m sure you can see, the professor lacks empathy, is unaware of his impact on others and appears to be a right bastard. But, in fact, he is a brilliant man and …”
“Who you talking to?”
“You think we in a story?”
“Let’s say we are, seeing you’re a world expert on Anton Chekhov…”
“You know nothing of real life and are rubbish with face to face relationships, but you’re brilliant at exploring Chekhov’s characters, their struggles with life, love and loss…”
“Also true,” said Professor Vogdanovich, smiling oddly. “I have spended my existence studying emotion on the paper while my life was lost from me …”
“So I’ll read you my own story, that I wrote last night in true Chekhovian style, and you will please comment on it,” the woman continued. She took a handgun from her handbag, pointed it at the professor, opened her pad and began reading.
Genie Out of the Bottle
by Lynda Kirby
The sandstorm changed direction as the caravan raced to high ground. It came fast, and I crouched to the leeward side of my camel, and reached for my daughter. When no hand met mine, I screamed her name, but it was lost in the wind. Blinded by the suffocating turbulence, I inched along keeping my head low, arms outstretched to grasp legs or shoulders. I tried to stand, but strong arms clamped me to the ground. The wind propelled sand as sharp as pins, and tossed rocks which exploded around me. One hit my head, and I succumbed to the blessed darkness.
I remember death took the shape of a cloud and hovered over my daughter. Her veiled face struggled to hide scared features. I wanted to drag her to my body once more, feel her substance and know that she still lived. Death changed shape, cumulus arms swirled: gathering her essence until it gushed like a geyser.
When the storm had passed, I remember a puddle of clothing lying in front of me; a royal blue swirl rippled with red and lavender. The sleeves remained crossed as though her hands still clutched mine. On top lay the veil and the memory of my daughter’s eyes.
by Gregory Lloyd
You might think it wrong, how I earn my living. You might think I am an evil, scheming bastard. But I pride myself on performing a service that truly enriches lives. If you came into my clinic right now, you would find me in my office, chatting with Miss Donna Abernathy, age 46, recently divorced. She has absolutely no love for herself. She desperately wants me to help her, and that makes her mine.
“You’ve made a wise decision, Donna. Give me next Monday morning and I can give you all that you desire.”
She looks at me across my desk, a mix of hope and vanity practically dripping from her eyes.
“So soon?” she asks. “I had no idea it would be so fast. And your price, it’s so low I thought it was a mistake.”
“No, Donna. Money is of little interest to me. Making you feel beautiful again, that is my true passion.”
I give her my most winning smile, and though I am sure I look rather like a shark, she smiles back. On Monday morning, I will extract about 100 pounds of fat from Donna Abernathy’s body. In truth, I don’t care a bit about making Donna feel beautiful, I simply want what she does not.
You see, I own a restaurant down the street from my office, and my chefs love to cook with fat. The food really is delicious. In fact, I recommend the place to all my patients. They always come back for more, and why not? I pride myself on teaching them to love themselves.
by Jenny Woodhouse
The digital display blinked 10:00, the clock struck and the light on Dorcas’s dome flashed. The boiler fell silent.
Dorcas, the homebot. Could giving the bloody machine a name make people like it? Maggie tried to calm herself. Too late.
‘Warning! Blood pressure elevated. Respiration exceeds normal parameters.’
And boo to you, too, Maggie muttered. To be reduced to childish abuse, at her age. But it fooled the swearing detector. Minor infringements added up.
Even her mahogany long-case clock was an infringement. One sentimental possession was allowed, but prohibited timber wasn’t, even felled centuries before the prohibition.
The quarter chimed. Maggie shivered. Trees shook in the wind, branches shimmered with ice. Global warming hadn’t brought warm weather. Maggie pulled her blanket over her knees. That wasn’t an infringement, for now. She had made it from offcuts of tweed. Sheep used to run on the fells, only coming down for shearing. She could still hear the shorn ewes, calling their lambs, filling the air with bleating.
Dorcas’s Cyclops eye glared. Maggie pulled the blanket higher and glared back.
‘Bugger this for a game of soldiers!’ she yelled. Defiant, she switched the boiler to manual. It purred, like her cat before pets were banned as inessential consumers of resources.
Heat diffused through the house.
Dorcas’s lights flashed like a long-ago Christmas tree but Maggie ignored them. She was in control. It felt good.
Even before the battering on the door began Dorcas was on the move, bumping over the gaps in the warped floorboards. The enforcer robots stomped in. Dorcas bleeped at them like a friendly dog.
‘Elder. Citizen. Wilson. Marguerite. You. Are. Under. Arrest. For. Reckless. Squandering. Of. Resources.’
‘It’s a fair cop. You’ve got me bang to rights.’ Their language circuits were not programmed for slang. A small victory.
by Sandra Arnold
Lauren watched the tui and bellbird dance on Nige’s hands as he clipped and cut. The black robin hopped about his throat as he told her he’d been expelled from six schools. Parents divorced when he was five. His ADHD, he reckoned. Probably would’ve ended up in prison if a mate hadn’t got him out of panel-beating and into hairdressing. His old man wasn’t too stoked but hey! Pretty stoked when he saw Nige operating his own salon at twenty and paying six stylists from his own pocket. Nige didn’t believe in this medication crap they gave kids nowadays. They just needed to channel that energy. Work and footie. Footie and work. That’s all it took.
Lauren stifled a yawn. “Sorry. Jet lag. Late flight from Borneo.”
“Mmhm. Fascinating place. Slept one night in a longhouse, surrounded by skulls.”
“Uh-huh. So back in time to see the game then?”
Long pause. “You’re joking, right?”
Lauren shook her head.
“God no! I’m not interested in rugby.”
The tui and bellbird froze above her head.
“But… this is New Zealand. You gotta care when the local team’s playing.”
The birds plummeted.
“Not my thing,” Lauren said.
The black robin on Nige’s neck pulsated.
His eyeballs revolved.
He stopped breathing.
Blood drained from his face.
Lauren relented. “But then, I’m a Pom.”
His face re-pinked.
“Aw yeah, that’d be it.”
The birds flew again.
A story about change
by Clay Sparkman
Leonard awoke with an erection of such exceptional proportions that he was unable to concentrate on anything but his relentless state of arousal. The ordinary cure–to accept his prize, paw his way into space, hang there for a moment, and then tumble like a rag doll back into bed–didn’t work on this particular morning. It didn’t work because changes had been made; there was a new decree.
The gods had grown weary of the bit they had originally worked out involving tension and resolution. It had seemed like a good idea in the beginning, or so Eros had argued, to have the amorous thing happen in a cyclical fashion, with a glimmer, a spark, and then a melodious spiraling flame, escalating toward the stars, wild eroticism, and then–nothing. And therein was the problem: the discontinuity between having it all for one shimmering instant, to be dancing on wild honey buttercups on Venus, and then find oneself suddenly in the weeds.
“It’s very hard to assimilate the fall,” Apollo had been compelled to argue at the later meetings. So, they fixed it. They had made it. They could fix it. So, the gods enacted Selective Perpetual Arousal (SPA). At precisely midnight EST, those who felt the desperate pull of their carnality would feel it always. And those without libidinous urge in that moment, would die lust-less. Titillation had become a trait, like eye color.
Of course, when our fellow, Leonard, awoke in such a state, he had no way of knowing about the new decree. All he could make of it is that he’d gone to bed a regular guy and woken up a satyr. “Problem is,” he mused, “the satyr is a mythological beast.” Not any more Leonard, not any more.
By K Nilan
‘Rest in peace, Lillian’. He tried to picture his ex-wife under the pile of lilies. The funeral was perfect, quirky and all, as she wanted it. Typical Lillian. He couldn’t stand the smell of lilies. The taxi should have arrived by now. Maybe he should have taken Lillian’s relatives offer of a lift. Not much fun waiting on his own in the company of crows and crooked tombstones. It started raining again. There were no road signs, only dead end lanes covered in mud. Honestly, why did she want to be buried in the middle of nowhere? The path twisted and disappeared into the woods. Dusk was falling fast. He stopped by an old spruce, his feet buried in rotten leaves and mud. The battery of his phone had gone. He held his breath and listened. The night creatures were coming out. A quick shadow behind the tree –oh my …. is this a dog … The wolf was staring at him with a blood-filled eye, the other one was missing. He didn’t remember running like an animal in the dark, tree branches hitting him, ripping his clothes, scratching his face. All of a sudden tarmac and screeching brakes. Halleluiah. He was the only passenger on the bus. He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t care. He woke up with a jerk. A recorded voice called all passengers to alight. Final stop. He looked around. There were no other passengers. The place looked familiar. The smell of lilies. He walked towards the grave. It was empty. The freshly dug soil was humid and brimming with life. He curled inside, a warm place to wait until dawn. Sticky and sweet, tons of lilies poured over him, intoxicating him, suffocating him. He smiled. Typical Lillian.
by M. Leland Oroquieta
I fogged the interstate with Washington, when I remembered California in your eyes. An empire of birds held their skies, clinging on wings of departures exiled from arrivals. You had stories without doors and windows that welcomed me into your life, echoes of chaos in the evening news frantic for the death of flags and effigies that burn eyes with rage. I heard words on the verge of war perched on the precipice of my demeanor.
Days after election day, you gathered stars and nights around me into songs, hoping the new leader won’t displace our minds in a mausoleum where freedoms are dispelled with other disposable variables, or anything that won’t equate with the mathematics and spirit of the incoming administration. I now fear the way fuck-yous string your guitar with premonitions, stalking me the way nights hold our hands together in the usual ballads about empty roads heading for illusions of a shining sea.
A Tiny Tale
by Polly Hall
Death is close. Does it know? A turntable body propelled by the fizz of wings against wood, typing invisible keys in the air with staccato stabs, punctuating its own plight. A fly in my vision. A fly in my throat. I can sense its scratchy body lodged there as if to steal my breath. I am repulsed by its dirt – the filthy insect. Inflicting its mortality on me by buzzing and twitching. How long before it becomes like the cocooned husks of its dusty fly relatives that litter my window sill.
I’ve used convenient objects before; a shoe, a rolled-up newspaper, the lid of a saucepan. Should I drown it in my gone-cold tea, let it taste the milky sweetness before expiring? But that would mean I’d have to clasp a leg between thumb and forefinger. Then I realise as I reach out to open the window that my hand is no longer covered in flesh but a hand of bones. I am the already dead one. Stripped bare. Skeletal. The fly I witness is a hatchling from my decayed corpse and it is I that am the abhorrent one.
There’s a myth
by Matt Ingoldby
There is a myth….not quite a myth, now more a colloquialism….about a river that brought death to whoever drank its waters. Such a brook was sought by ruined businessmen, rejected lovers, and the incurably guilty. But waiting by its banks was a sort of trickster or sprite called Timon, who, in the guise of a concerned stranger, implores the miserable soul to change their mind. If this fails, he offers an alternative: There is another river, not from here, that will rid the drinker of their memory instead. Those seduced by this notion heed his directions, and set off, only to meet the trickster at the next riverbank; who tells them, this is still a stretch of my river. You must go further on. On the seeker wanders, weary now, and at the next riverbank, there again is Timon. This time he chides them for not paying attention. Many at this point will give up and return, discovering new strength by the difficult terrain. For the rest, the pattern is repeated endlessly, until the search overcomes the mind, and at last the body dies from dehydration.
A QUIXOTIC PERFORMANCE
by Colby Smith
A lauded Santiago poet called Marisol grew so immersed in her latest project that she lost her faculty to discern between the microcosm of the stage and the macrocosm of the world.
Every aspect of her became exaggerated like her clichéd creations. Marisol’s gestures and tone became animated as hummingbird wings; she would veer into lofty, irrelevant monologues over a casual lunch of humitas with friends and dates; she would barge in and out of buildings and stroll through the streets with the gait of a blind duck. She developed a phobia of closed curtains. A wide range of pesos were bet on what sort of condition she had contracted or what substances she ingested.
When the Municipal Theatre rejected Marisol’s magnum opus, she was acutely distraught.
She drank heavily that night, drew the curtains closed, and slept.
by Fatimah Saheed
Bright Yesufu (not real name) with five other fortune hunters boarded a bus to Kano. They were going to meet a smuggler to take them across the desert to Libya and then, Europe.
He used his school fees to finance this trip and had some change in a small bundle he carried with him.
Their smuggler bribed the officers and they easily crossed the Niger border. Another smuggler took over at the border town but he wanted more money. They refused so, he gave them a map and asked them to find their way to the next stop.
They trekked; their long shadows going before them on the dusty earth. They begged and stole to quench hunger and thirst. Bright’s feet had blisters and hurt badly, his skin was blackened and the desert heat was slowly driving him mad.
Finally, they found the smuggler and were soon on a truck to Agadez. One stop to Libya the driver crooned. Bright held on tight to the wooden railing and his keg of water. At Agadez, they waited for four days before their smuggler could strike a deal with a driver. Then, they were back on another truck.
All the kegs were stolen that night by bandits. Two days later two men died. They dug a shallow grave for them with their bare hands and moved on. The truck was now silent as a grave. Only their eyes squinting under the Sahara sun told the story of their hope and despair and longing.
They never got to Libya. One of the famous sandstorms of this desert overtook them and the inexperienced driver lost his way. There was nothing to breathe but hot yellow dust.
Bright’s last thought was his mother’s hug and the letter he promised to write her from Libya.
The Vampire’s Biannual Headache
by Munira Sayyid
“My wife’s dead!”
“That’s hardly a concern, Frankenstein.”
“Don’t call me that!”
“Ok, Adam. Tell us why you think your corpse wife is suddenly dead?”
“I’m sure she’s been murdered!”
Vladimir sighed, “Mary, please.”
“Oh Vlad, he’s being ridiculous as usual. His wife’s fine. Some flea bites, at the most.”
“She’s been missing for two nights! She’s been kidnapped!” roared Adam.
“Oh, shut up, Adam.” Mary yawned.
Vladimir did a quick head count. “Lucien isn’t here?”
“Full moon. What do you expect?”
“And Mr. Hyde?” Vladimir really liked him.
“Unavailable. The good doctor received the call. Sounded like he had a bad hangover. Reminded me of the time I partied with Simka’s coven,” said Mary, wistfully.
“Those boys were wild!” said Simka, teleporting next to Mary.
“Ladies, please,” Vladimir sighed and began addressing the crowd. “Good evening, everyone. This meeting was convened on short notice and I’m grateful to all the representatives that could make it. Few announcements…”
“My wife’s disappeared!” bellowed Adam.
“Oh, shut up, Adam,” someone hissed.
Vladimir continued, “Firstly, the Boogeyman wants to confirm that there won’t be any kind of music played at his wedding. Lilith and Asmodeus, the succubus and incubus representatives (respectively) have opened another BDSM club. Bring your own human for blood play. We’re pleased to have our newest member, Big Foot or as he insists friends call him, Benjamin, representing…”
“You know what they say about men with big feet,” Mary giggled.
“What about my wife?” wailed Adam.
“Enough!” Vladimir thundered, “Everybody here knows that she’s with Lucien and that they’ve been having an affair. Except you! Who chooses to be an ignorant fool!”
The ensuing silence was broken by loud sobs.
“I don’t understand…I wanted a puppy…but she said she was allergic…”
“Oh, shut up, Adam!”
By Laura Beasley
The twins found the witch rocking on the porch of her candy cottage.
“My cage is broken, go away.” Said the witch.
“After we eat your candy.” Said Gretchen.
“I need a nap.”
The witch slammed the door and climbed the stairs to her bedroom.
Gretchen and her brother peeled gumdrops and peppermints from the shutters. They called to the bedroom window after twelve minutes.
“Pick lemons and make lemonade. I can’t sleep with your crunching.” Said the witch.
The witch gave them a pitcher, sugar, strainer and cups. She helped them turn on the hose. She let them select a special spoon for stirring.
“We want to sell lemonade.”
“I might have a card table, poster board and markers in the attic. Who will buy lemonade? We’re in the middle of the forest!” Said the witch.
“Please, please!” said the twins.
The witch called her friend the ogress to come buy lemonade. The two women played Go Fish, War, Old Maid and Slap with the children as well as Hide and Seek. They baked cookies, brownies and cupcakes.
The twins never returned to their stepmother. They lived with the witch and lived happily ever after.
You’ve Gotta Be Sh*tting Me
By Alex Z. Salinas
My buddy Carlos called me, and I knew exactly what for. I would’ve ignored his call if I wasn’t a good friend. I didn’t like being called at work; he knew that.
I stepped into the breakroom.
“What’s up?” I answered briskly.
“Hey man, how are ya?”
There were a few seconds of static silence. I wasn’t going to ask how he was doing.
“Cool. Hey, sorry to bother you, but just wanted to ask something real quick.”
“You really think me and Adriana will hit it off?”
Adriana was an old college friend who’d never kept a steady boyfriend. When I last saw her, I mentioned Carlos. I showed her his picture; she thought he was cute. Carlos was different, though. Good looking, but different.
“I told you. Just play it cool.”
“Play it cool,” he repeated.
“And wear a diaper,” I commanded.
“See, I was thinkin’ about that. That’s kinda weird, bro. Right?”
“It’s weirder to crap your pants on the first date.”
Carlos had a God-awful stomach. Dude couldn’t keep anything down without an emergency exit. Breathing air gave him diarrhea.
“Yeah,” he relented. “You’re right.”
Carlos crapped his pants on their first date. He took Adriana for Mexican, too.
It did NOT end well, he texted me.
Diaper? I texted him.
Nah, he responded.
Adriana’s text came in: This guy’s crazy!!! I like him.
You’re not gonna believe this…she digs you, I texted Carlos.
Five seconds later, Carlos called me.
“Bro!” he screamed.
“We’ve got a match.”
Right then, I thought, Damn. I should’ve mentioned that Adriana used to be a dude. Just in case.
“She’s hot and she’s into me?!” Carlos howled.
“Watch out, ladies: Beastman’s back!”
by Mikael Kelly
In Klaus’ dream, he breaks into a mansion, removes a green snake from a terrarium, and bashes its dinosaur head to a jelly. He flees down a series of stairs. An alarm is raised; he is seized by guards at a wall. In a well-lit room a pair of magistrates interrogate him about his bizarre crime.
What happened next, his wife Henriette asks him the next morning. They are in the kitchen. I couldn’t recall the origin of the violence, he says. I felt beyond myself. It was only a dream, she says sympathetically. She knows Klaus to be gentle, that he saves spiders and moths from sinks and showers.
That afternoon Klaus goes for a walk in the woods with their son, Jeremias. The boy runs off to play in the creek. When he searches for him later there is only the slow-moving water, the still emptiness under the canopy. He finds the boy in a glade. The sight of Jeremias standing silent and frozen makes his hair stand on end. Jeremias, he whispers, and when he comes to there is a decaying log in a spot of sunshine. Resting on the log is a snake. He leads the boy away by the hand.
I was just looking, Jeremias says.
Don’t ever bother a snake, he tells the boy. They’ll bite you, and if a snake bites you you’ll die. You must leave them alone, Jeremias. Do you understand?
They walk on through the forest, holding hands. The light of the day is falling. In the boughs overhead birds call to each other. In the brush small feet move away. A wind picks up, scattering leaves. An animal knows things, Klaus says suddenly. An animal can see into your heart.
by Munira Sayyid
“Twentieth floor, please.”
“Why do you wear that hoodie?”
“That scarf…thing around your head.”
“Well…We aren’t going to meet again, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Really? Was hoping to have lunch with you.”
“That’s a horrible way to ask someone out.”
“You know, I’m a Jew and you’re a Muslim.”
“You know what are kids will be called, right? ‘MusJews!’ – ‘Everybody! Run for your lives! The MusJews are attacking!’ Trump will have a field day.”
“Hmm. There’s a place at the end of the street. Serves great pork sandwiches.”
“Oh. That’s great. My kind of girl.”
“Chicken too. One o’clock?”
“Sure! Oh, and by the way, I’m not a serial killer. Thought you should know.”
“Damn. Eh, I’ll live.”
“That was interesting.”
“You know, we can’t have sex on Friday.”
“And Saturday is out of the question.”
“Sunday it is!”
“What’s the view like from down there?”
“Expansive. Very humbling. You should give it a try.”
“It would stop confusing the birds.”
“That was the last time. My place tonight?”
“On a Friday? It’s the beard, isn’t it.”
“I love you.”
“…in an alternate universe…where we fight against all odds like…coming from different social classes or being cousins because…we’re meant to be.”
“I’ll get there one day.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
“It’s called Biryani.”
“It’s a bit spicy. Why is it so delicious?”
“I added love.”
“Can I have some of that, please?”
“Thought you’d never ask.”
“Your mother’s calling for Hanukkah again.”
“The nerve of her. That’s horrible.”
“We’ll all go. Her hoodie wore me down.”
“It does suit her.”
“Also, she’ll stop stalking Adam on his way to the mosque.”
“Highly doubt that.”
“Biryani for lunch.”
by Mike Murphy
Esmerelda, the dove, had returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf in her beak! Everyone was ecstatic. It had been a long forty days and nights, and the constant rain had been very depressing.
Noah spotted a patch of land ahead and steered the craft toward it. A cheer went up from his family members when the Ark ran ashore. His children jumped from the smelly wooden boat, thrilled to feel solid ground under their feet once again. They danced and sang. Noah smiled at their behavior.
He was getting ready to release the pairs of animals from the hold, when he heard it in the distance. “Yoo-hoo!” A woman’s voice. None of the women in his family had spoken. “Noah!” came the voice again, slightly closer now.
He was descending the gangplank to the ground when he saw them: Four people – a man, a woman, and two young girls – walking out of a copse of nearby trees. “It’s us!” the woman called, waving energetically. As they came closer, and better into focus for Noah’s 600-year-old eyes, he saw they were the Adelsteins – his old neighbors.
They greeted him: Miriam kissed him on his cheek. Harry slapped him on the back. “That was some rain, huh?” he said.
Confused, Noah asked, “But how. . .”
“You silly billy,” Mariam replied, “we have a boat too.”
An Exercise in Futility
by Alex Z. Salinas
“I appreciate that,” said Sam Allan to Tim Warner, who held the elevator door open.
“Of course,” said Tim Warner.
What a class act, thought Sam Allan.
Sam Allan sat at his desk, turned on his computer, and opened his email browser. He had ten unread messages. The first was from Denise Johansen, his boss’s secretary.
The papers were delivered yesterday evening. I appreciate all the work you do.
Sam Allan smiled. What a way to start the day, thought he.
Sam Allan cracked his fingers and typed something back.
I appreciate you saying that, Denise.
Sam Allan worked through lunch, though his stomach growled.
Michael Lemon, Sam Allan’s boss, walked by Sam Allan’s desk and noticed Sam Allan’s face buried in papers.
“Powering through lunch?” asked Michael Lemon.
“Sure am, boss,” said Sam Allan.
“Atta boy. I appreciate all your hard work,” said Michael Lemon.
“I appreciate that, boss,” said Sam Allan.
Ten hours later, Sam Allan left the office. He’d only eaten a cup of ramen noodles, so he drove to Franky’s, his favorite deli.
“There he is,” said Willie the cashier as Sam Allan walked in.
“Howdy, Willie,” said Sam Allan.
“Number one, extra pickles?” asked Willie.
“My man,” said Sam Allan, shooting Willie a finger-gun.
Sam Allan dropped a five-dollar bill in the tip jar.
“Appreciate that, Sammy,” said Willie.
“Appreciate you, Willie,” said Sam Allan.
Sam Allan drove to his apartment and ate his capicola-and-ham sandwich.
Suddenly, Sam Allan’s phone buzzed.
I don’t appreciate you ignoring my calls
Sam Allan cracked his fingers and typed something back.
I’d appreciate if you’d stop calling me
Sam Allan finished the rest of his sandwich.
Later that night, Sam Allan fell asleep quickly—albeit three minutes later than usual.
By Alex Z. Salinas
“You boys ever consider why they don’t send old men to knock on doors?”
Caleb was taken aback by the question. Stephen’s face remained the same—neither mystified nor bothered.
“That’s besides the poi—“ Stephen said, before the bearded, balding homeowner cut him off.
“Besides the point? That is the point. That’s the whole damn point.”
“Pardon my asking, sir,” Caleb interjected, “but have you read the Bible?”
The man looked at Caleb as if he’d just asked if he could borrow his wife and return her next Tuesday.
“In the Bible, sir, “ Caleb continued, ignoring the stare but terrified by it all the same, “it tells of many who’ve gone through hardship and struggle.”
“Is that right? Tell me, ” looking at the white nametag on the white dress shirt, “Caleb, what hardships have you gone through?”
“That’s besides the poin—“ Stephen said, before the bearded, balding homeowner cut him off once again.
“You and your damn points. Was I talking to you?”
Caleb started to shiver. The man noticed.
“Let me tell you boys something,” said the man, the edge in his voice gone. “In this day and age, it’s a miracle a man can even open his front door. Another place and time, I’d’ve pulled y’all in, wrapped my hands around y’all’s necks, and squeezed the life out for even talking about God. The whole world’s mad, yet here were are. Isn’t that a miracle?”
There was a change in air that Caleb and Stephen picked up. Sometimes, the change in air was the signal to leave.
“Point taken,” Stephen said firmly. “Have a blessed day, sir.”
The man didn’t say goodbye. He shut his door.
The boys walked off and decided to call it a day.
by Soren James
My son looked at me, incredulous at the menacing bulge of rock that was directly above us. “I know! I’ve seen it.” I said, “And it’s coming toward us – that’s why it’s increasing in size. If you look there, you’ll see those blades of grass getting bigger. Not because they are growing, but because it’s falling toward us at great speed.”
“Should we not move?”
“I don’t know. I’m enjoying the view. But what do you think? This is your holiday too.”
“I believe that moving would help me to see mum again.”
“Is this the same mother who now lives with a sports-person, and claims to have found happiness?”
“Yes, that’s her.”
“I don’t know why you’d pin any future plans on her. I’ve experience of her as unreliable, and regularly dishonest about where she is. Surely meeting with such a person is fraught with disappointment?”
“Not in my experience. She’s always been there for me. I find her very supportive, and nurturing of my emotional side.”
“Sounds dangerous. What does she want with your emotion? I don’t like the sound of it.”
“She says normal, healthy people, share their emotions.”
“Or maybe she’s looking to steal your emotion. Maybe she has none of her own. In fact, I know she hasn’t. She’s cold and evil. Maybe you should stay away from her.”
“It’s getting awfully dark here, dad. Could we move over there into the light?”
“No. Be a man, like your father, and learn to live with the dark.”
Death Was Coming For Her
by Dana Macy
My friend was a difficult curmudgeon. She minced no words. Not on any subject or about any person. That’s how she was, until the surgery. The diagnosis was brain cancer. Surgery went well. She returned home, determined to beat cancer. It was then that we noticed a change in her demeanor. She rested on the sofa, not interested in basketball or her favorite HBO series, or the books she loved to read. She spoke well of people, even those she’d come to blows with over the years. She told us how grateful she was that these people were in her life. She joked that the surgery had left a space in her head and that we all needed more space in our heads.
We exchanged mystified glances. We considered that she knew was dying and was turning over a new leaf or that she was playing with us in jest. But no, she talked about beating cancer and of plans for the future. We pondered on this. Here was our friend who’d become another person. Was it possible that brain surgery had rearranged the wiring up there? Or was it a ‘consciousness’ thing? Did the subconscious know that death was coming and the conscious part of the brain not know?
Our friend once published a collection of poetry and quoted Carl Jung:
“The opposite of profound is silly.”
Sing to me, song to me
running to run
canoe to the moon
to the sun, to the sun
Paddle me, puddle
My porridge is cold
We grow younger each year
We grow old, we grow old
The afternoon of her death, she’d been excited that we made her a grilled cheese sandwich.
Before the first bite, she was gone.
by Brandon Salkil
There’s a place I escape to, whenever my brain informs me it’s feeling ill. The exhausting days and sleepless nights are crippling and can only be remedied by certified eccentrics.
It’s a hole in the wall, you see. On the corner of Qessler and 28th. A green door with no handle which will state, ‘no entry.’ Knock twice. Answer accordingly.
“Peace comes at a cost.”
Once inside, choose your artist.
I prefer Margaret. She has the best hands. We usually chit-chat for a moment before she gets to work.
Once she removes my scalp, her fingers massage my frontal and parietal lobes in gentle strides. It’s a soothing rub which delivers shivers down my spine. She follows next by squeezing tight on my cerebellum; sparking a familiar pulse back into my system.
The palm of her hand cruises up and performs a clockwise motion on my occipital. My body grows warm with tingles. Next, her prodding fingers move out, exploring my temporal lobe like fine needles would explore entwined thread. My heart pounds the inside of my chest in excitement.
She finishes by grabbing hold of my optic nerves. Stroking them ever so gently between the softness of her index fingers and thumbs. It’s here that I lose all control. My body ceasing for that brief, wonderful moment as I exhale. Releasing the energy which builds up and cultivates within me the week prior.
All previous tension disappears.
I feel alive.
Parlor 39, friend.
Tell them I sent you.
by Samuel Cole
–I’m so depressed, he whispers. God, he hates this feeling.
–Give it some time, she says, standing in front of him like an ill-fit garment hiding in the back rack of his closet’s imagination.
He buries his head in the center of her fluffy, red jacket. Like always, her lilac-scented cologne ripples his skin with goose bumps. She kneels and cracks a knee. –Is there anything I can get you before I leave?
They linger in silence. So many things neither one gets.
She stands and swipes a finger across his chin. –Maybe a drink? She drums with light, tight fists the width of his shoulders. –I put the dry cleaning slip on the washing machine. They have like two bags worth of your stuff.
He studies her toenails, wondering if dead skin, even when it’s alive, is more dead than alive.
–Alrighty then, she says—he can hear her so clearly—shutting the garage door and driving away.
He hates silence, curses it, reminding the air, the ceiling, and the empty wedding frame on the wall that she isn’t coming back, at least not to him.
by Sam Palmer
‘Are you my Mum?’ The woman stares through spider legs, green eyeshadow all the way to her brows. I shake my head. She wanders off to the window, hands caressing glass.
Lisa glares, picking up a paintbrush. ‘She’s loopy.’
My head buzzes. I eye the door to the ward, skin itching.
‘What were you saying?’
‘Oh yeah…about this women who had Monkhouse’s or something. She hurt her daughter so she could get attention. Can you believe it? I hear voices but they never tell me to do anything bad.’
‘That’s not exactly bad is it? Toaster here, bottle of wine there. They got it back. Well…I drank the merlot.’
She paints a face with gaping mouth. It’s good. I never knew she could paint. I suppose I should have guessed, she was the creative one. I was the anal retentive who couldn’t draw a line without fretting about its position.
‘Why am I still here? Can’t I go home now, Chris?’
I think of Lisa at four years old – on a swing laughing, screaming to go higher. She touches the clouds. I laugh too; already I know how to fake it. She is fearless and I am so afraid. I am aware that this divides us; that we are alike but different.
The bugs are crawling their way along my veins. I keep looking at the door, dividing line between our lives.
Lisa rubs my shoulder. ‘Don’t cry Bro. It’ll look better when it’s finished.’
When the Hamster Wheel Spins ‘Round and ‘Round
By Alex Z. Salinas
I saw Benny in the distance lifting dumbbells.
I hadn’t seen him in a while. Then again, it had been a while since I last went to the gym. I walked over to him to say what’s up.
“What’s going on, Benny?”
“Hey! What’s up, guy? Where you been at?”
“Just gettin’ back into it.”
“Cool cool, man. That’s cool.”
“How you been? Wife and kids good?”
“Yeah man, they’re good. Real good. We just moved into a new house. Lisa picked all the furniture this weekend. We went to Ikea. You been there, man? It’s crazy. They have an inside restaurant and shit. But yeah, Lisa’s good, kids are good too. They’re in school, just learning stuff, ya know? Yeah man, everything’s good.”
“Good, Benny. That’s great.”
“Yeah man, good, good. Except last night, Lisa made me sleep downstairs, man. Downstairs! Been married fifteen years and never slept downstairs. In my own damn house. Crazy, man.”
“Yeah man, it was just a picture of Kim Kardashian on my phone. A friend sent it to me and I downloaded it, but Lisa thought it was a girl. I mean, how dumb is that? How does she not know who Kim Kardashian is? No girl has a booty like that around here. Shit. Fifteen years, man. Fifteen years.”
“Sorry to hear that.” I wasn’t sure I really was.
“All good, man. All good. That’s marriage for ya. You married yet? Just stay single, man. It’s better that way. Don’t want no ball-and-chain telling you who to be friends with or making you sleep downstairs in your own damn house. Ain’t worth it, man.”
I just smiled at him.
“All right, Benny, I’ll do that.”
“Ha, you’re funny, man. But I ain’t trippin’. Everything’s good, real good.”
“I’m glad, Benny. All right, well I better get back to it.”
“Cool cool, man. See ya around. Don’t be a stranger.”
Good ol’ Benny. It made me happy to know he was doing real good.
by Ana Prundaru
“Congratulations, you have the role of Ophelia. “
“Happy to hear that, thank you. I know this is a low-budget film. Should I bring my own clothes? “
“Stilettos with a tight dress. Make sure you are not towering over the main actor. “
“Err… OK. About payment… “
“No pay. Budget goes toward paying the filmmaker and purchasing the skull. “
“That is fine. Where can I get the script? “
“You won’t have any lines. But there is a twist at the end. “
“What is it? “
“You turn into a witch and perform a ritual dance to help Hamlet. “
“Alright, so in the vein of the three witches in Macbeth. “
“Something like that. You don’t mind fake vomit thrown at you, do you? “
“Dad why would you say that? “
“Why not? That’s something you might have to deal with during castings. “
“I doubt it’s as dreadful as you make it out to be. “
“I don’t want you being naive. You also just forgot the number one rule of acting. “
“Which is? “
“Never break character. Are you going to reconsider your career choice? “
“Not an answer. “
“I will think about it! “
“Don’t take too long. It’s not too late to apply for grad school. “
“You don’t have to stress me. It’s hard enough having to choose a career for the rest of my life. “
“I know and I’ll try to help you how I can. “
“Thanks. Dad? “
“You are coming with me to L.A. if I decide on the acting route, right? “
“You bet I will. “
“But you won’t be allowed to come to casting calls with me.”
“We’ll see about that. “
There’s Something in the Closet
by Karl Lykken
I awake from a deep, peaceful sleep to a rattling coming from my bedroom closet. It’s a metallic clinking, a rusty scraping, something familiar yet out of place. I sit up in bed, scared for the first time all Halloween.
Could it be teenagers? They broke into my basement last year, thinking it would be a great prank to sneak into a spooky old house on Halloween. But this isn’t my basement; they’d have had to open my locked bedroom door and get to the other side of the room without me noticing. No, this isn’t teenagers.
“Who’s there?” I ask. In reply there is only more vigorous clinking. What could it be? A ghost come to haunt me? The devil come to drag me down to the flames to pay for my sins? Has my number finally come? Well, I won’t go without a fight.
I grab the baseball bat from beside my bed and race to the closet. I tear open the door and see inside—a bound and gagged man chained to the wall. I burst out laughing. I’d forgotten I’d moved him up here in case the teenagers broke into the basement again. I should really talk to a doctor about my memory. I feel like I’m losing it.
by Alex Z. Salinas
“I ordered a chicken sandwich and you gave me a Whopper. I specifically said chicken sandwich.”
“You said a number one, sir.”
“I changed it to a chicken sandwich.”
“But I read your order back to you.”
“Oh this is my fault?”
“No sir, I’m just saying I read your order back.”
“You gettin’ smart with me, girl?”
“Sounded like you were. I don’t care for smart-mouthed girls.”
At this point, Kevin Dominguez could no longer stay quiet. He clenched his teeth as if to prevent himself from talking, but words spilled out of his mouth.
“You need to relax, bro,” Kevin said, gently grabbing the shoulder of the man in front of him.
The man snapped his shoulder away and turned around.
“Don’t you ever fucking touch me again,” he said.
The man stepped toward Kevin.
“Back up, bro.”
“I ain’t your fucking bro.”
Kevin smelled tobacco in his breath.
He was brought back to the markets in Kabul. He recalled various meats hanging on hooks and the smells of body odor and spice. Every other man smoked a cigarette. One day, a man who was pulling his wife by the hair had bumped into Kevin. He shouted foreign curses—he clearly despised American soldiers. He then approached Kevin. Without warning, Kevin dropped him.
“You listening, shithead?”
The man stepped closer to Kevin.
An angry power surged through Kevin’s body. He wrapped his hands around the man’s neck, pulled down, and kneed him in the groin as hard as he could.
The man collapsed on the floor. He clutched his chest. His face turned cherry red.
The manager, a chubby little man, rushed to the fallen man.
Kevin stood, motionless. His heart began to pound.
He closed his eyes. Despite his will, he was back in Kabul.
When Coffee Dies
by Sunny Ekhalume
The pig took a swig from his mug of lager and grunted, “When shall the farmer stop slaughtering my piglets for bacon?”
The inside of the pub was dimly lit; almost empty as it was near closing time.
The chicken, sitting next to him by a table, slurred, “And when shall he stop harvesting my eggs to make omelettes?”
The dog, sitting legs crossed, bespectacled, with a cigar dangling between his lips said, “Maybe I can help.” He pawed at the screen of his iPad, peered at it with squinted eyes and said, “Yes, stop the farmer from having breakfast. And the murder of your progeny will cease.”
“That will be impossible,” the chicken smirked.
“How do we do that? The pig asked.
“There’s a way out,” said the dog. He dragged on his cigar. “Without the coffee, there will be no breakfast. Take his coffee away.”
“That’s impossible,” the pig sighed.
The dog said, “Never say impossible. Let me check online.” He tapped the screen of his iPad, waited for the page to load and said, “Yes, take the caffeine out of his coffee and he will stop taking his breakfast.”
The pig and the chicken peered at each other and chorused, “Yes!”
“For what is coffee without the caffeine,” the pig said.
“It’s like beer without the alcohol,” said the chicken.
“Like sex without orgasm,” said the dog.
The trio finished their drinks, fumbled up their seats and staggered out of the pub into the cold night.
The farmer, after his breakfast, felt lethargic, unaware that his coffee had been decaffeinated. He suspended his work for the day and went to bed. This went on for days. He soon went into a depression and was admitted to a mental home.
By Michael Chin
When we got to the next town, we couldn’t find a gym.
It didn’t bother the Russians.
Ruslan and Nikolai. They were a tag team together and they rode together. They worked out together, too, which wouldn’t have been so unusual if not for how they did it.
We lean on each other, Ruslan explained. And we watched. Ruslan and Nikolai stood facing each other, as if frozen in a low five. Ruslan on top, wrists bent back, palms down, pushing down. Nikolai with his palms up, biceps straining to curl his forearms upward. Jostling in the most cockeyed test of strength you’ve ever seen. I push down, I work triceps, Ruslan said. He pull up, he work bicep.
After a series of what I suppose you could call reps, pushing and pulling, they traded roles and carried on.
Later that night—I swear that town was cursed—Martin LeRoux twisted his ankle and got stretchered backstage. Nikolai shook his head. His English was worse than his partner’s, so he rarely spoke, but Ruslan translated his body language. Back home, no stretchers.
So what’d you do if someone got hurt?
Ruslan slung an arm over Nikolai’s shoulders. Most of us boys would have called him fag and pushed him away, but Nikolai locked hips, support Ruslan as he grew lighter on his feet, letting his partner bear his weight, if just for a second. We lean.
by Simon Lee-Price
The village barber was worried by his loss of business. He knew the cause. The men in the village had grown neglectful of their appearance or else had taken to cutting their own hair to save themselves money.
So the barber went to the mayor and demanded that the ancient Barbery Law be enforced.
‘Are you sure?’ said the mayor. ‘Maybe this law fell into disuse for good reason?’
The barber was adamant. ‘It is the law of our forefathers who were much wiser than us and I insist you do your job and enforce it.’
The following day the law was proclaimed from a platform next to the gallows: On pain of death every man in this village is required to have his hair regularly cut by the village barber and is forbidden to cut his own hair.
From that day forth the barber’s chair was always occupied.
As he was counting up his takings one evening, the barber said to his wife: ‘At this rate we’ll soon be rich.’ Then he caught sight of himself in the big mirror. He had been so busy cutting the hair of others he’d neglected his own. He handed the scissors to his wife and sat down in his chair.
She laughed. ‘I can’t anymore.’
‘The law states that only you, the village barber, may cut a man’s hair.’
He took the scissors from her. ‘A tolerable inconvenience, I suppose.’
‘Stop!’ cried his wife.
‘What now?’ He held the scissors, poised to snip away the untidy ends of his fringe.
There was a look of horror on his wife’s face. ‘The law also forbids any man to cut his own hair.’
Outside the shop he could hear the rattle of chain armour and the tramping of heavy boots.
by Alex Z. Salinas
“Honey, you’re not supposed to check your phone while driving.”
“Not texting, Mom. Finding a song.”
“Seriously? I’m 28.”
He smiled and, with one hand on the steering wheel, used his other to grab her hand. It felt fragile in his grip.
He remembered how as a child, he would grab her hand in church. It didn’t feel so fragile then.
“You know how I like to worry.”
“Oh Mom. Do you mind listening to some 50 Cent?”
“Momma loves her Fiddy!”
He pulled up to the drive-thru of a tiny Church’s Chicken. The glowing yellow signpost shined like a mini sun in the night sky. He had made many late-night stops here.
“Can I help you?”
“Let me get the 10-piece special with a side of mashed potatoes and mac ‘n cheese.”
As he finished his order, a dark figure approached the passenger side of his vehicle. His mom noticed it and made a noise as if air was sucked from her lungs.
The thin man wore black pants and a Spider-Man T-shirt. His dark hair was long and frayed. It looked dirty, as did his skin and beard. His eyes—deep set—he remembered.
He’d forgotten all about him. He remembered seeing him one summer walk the main road just about daily.
“This guy’s still around?”
His mom stared at the man.
“Yeah. He’s gotten worse since you left. Crazier.”
The man glared at them and growled.
“Is he growling?”
“He’s just crazy. Poor man.”
He felt the food didn’t come fast enough. He drove off and watched the man disappear in his rearview mirror.
There was silence except for the hum of the road.
He thought about turning around. He’d offer the man food.
His mind shifted quickly.
He wished he’d never come back.
TAXED ON AFFECTION
by Sarah Estime
Experience disgust so intense that you are deprived and thirsty yet feel undeserving for affection or for love or anything. Experience anger so emotional that there are no lyrics to relate; there is no one to pick you up; there’s no time that could mitigate it. Experience resentment so full you declare it wasn’t love at all because a lover wouldn’t deny you and provoke you to deny him back, reasoning that it was probably meant to be; that it was probably just lust. The silly things are vivid in hindsight. Regretful begrudging is valid. Dilute it and reduce it so you don’t feel so inane.
Experience the fear that David J. Rosen wrote about on pages five and six. Experience the guilt of making love under the crucifix. Experience the thrill. Experience the bliss blocked off. Experience never getting a chance to be fully exposed, agreeing that you revealed yourself enough. No. That was mere juvenility. And there was always a peremptory hand craning and guiding and controlling, and you were stupid for believing you would prove your womanhood.
You belong back at home, sheltered beneath the authoritarian shaking heads of mom and dad. You belong back home where you thought it wasn’t home at all because the ground was made of ice and the ceiling dripped of resentment. You were born into tension and will probably die that way, too.
by Kareem Shehab
When he was born he was baptised. As they decided he was ready, and not that he really was, they taught him all about Jesus. He was told about The Lovely Place the Lord has prepared for him because he was a follower of His son. She, on the other hand, was taught to cover her head. They told her how lucky she was to be a follower of the only true religion. Allah has blessed her with her belief. Jesus has blessed him with his. Not that she chose to, but it was stuck in her mind to follow what she had been told to learn because she was promised The Lovely Place, created for her and only her people. Maybe they are both going to the same place. Maybe they are not. Now they are matured. They met. Unfortunately they fell in love with each other. And now it’s too complicated. Love might change their beliefs, but their beliefs are definitely not going to change their love; or might they!
by Larry Thacker
It surprised Larry when Karin finally relented and agreed to the turkey hunt. He’d aggravated her for a year. They’d bond, he insisted. She enjoyed camping after all. Turkey hunting would be almost like that, only they’d be tip-toeing around in the woods in camos trying to put an arrow through an unsuspecting turkey.
Nothing, Karin thought, like camping. I married an out and out imbecile, she reminded herself.
She was a meticulous human being. A strict vegan, which is why her husband has insisted on this tug-of-wills for so long.
He had once lovingly described her at a party as a militant vegan feminist with OCD and ADHD tendencies who’d never grown up and insisted on controlling everyone’s life. It was a funny jab all but Karin found funny. That little stunt was recorded as grudge number four-hundred-and-thirty-five she later recollected in her night journal.
That journal, a journal that temptingly announced itself as “JOURNAL,” ended up being the final straw for Karin.
She was convinced he’d snuck a peek at it.
Who would do that? Not a spouse of all people in the cruel world!
That was grudge number five-hundred.
She quit counting after that. And writing in her journal.
The precision of a bow and arrow suited her. It was sheer control, sensed through clenched fingers, through the extension of flexed and perfectly held alignment of wrist and forearm, the clasp of lovingly aluminum death in the arrow near the ear. It was ratcheted empowerment in the hands. All she needed to kill that shitty little bastard.
She’d been out in the woods practicing for months, quietly. An arrow accident was much easier to build a story around.
She was meticulous.
The light was in her eyes.
He was wearing camo.
“I thought he was a turkey.”
The Best Advice I Ever Got
by Bart Van Goethem
Today I heard the mother of my first girlfriend died and that makes me sad. How she patiently taught me to pick up on all the signals: a breath held in for a second longer than you’d expect, a grip tightening, barely noticeable, and a seemingly endless array of moans, each with their own specific, subtle modulation. Always come second, she used to say. If you don’t do it out of love, do it out of politeness. That’s the best advice I ever got. I’ll miss her.
by JRJ Richmond
Houses for sale – Sunderland area.
House for rent – Sunderland area.
What is Millfield in Sunderland like?
Things to do in Millfield – Sunderland.
Cheap decorators – Sunderland.
Furniture shops – Sunderland.
B and M’s – Sunderland.
Why do orbs keep appearing in all my photographs?
Mountain Daisy Pub – opening and closing times.
Takeaway shops that do delivery – Sunderland.
Creaking and banging noises – reasons.
Can a light go on by itself?
Cheap TV remote for sale.
Doctor’s – Millfield.
How do I get rid of a strange smell if I don’t know where it is coming from?
Can a TV turn on by itself?
Why do dogs bark?
How do you stop a dog barking at nothing?
Kennels – Sunderland.
Best way to clean up glass.
Does a kettle re-boil itself if you leave it a while?
How to stop doors opening by themselves?
Can mice open cupboard doors?
How to stop drawers sliding open.
Nightmares. What do they mean?
Why do I feel like I am being watched?
Hallucination’s and their cause.
Cheap CCTV camera’s.
Why do I have hot and cold areas in my house?
What does a ghost look like?
Expensive CCTV camera’s.
Are ghosts bad?
Can a ghost kill you?
How to communicate with ghosts.
Ouija boards for sale.
Mediums – Sunderland.
How to file a missing person report.
Contents Insurance claims.
Exorcist – Sunderland.
Hilton Hotel – Sunderland.
Travelodge – Sunderland.
Houses for rent – Sunderland area.
by Samuel Brower
Midnight hour. Tangled sheets. A man, a woman, lying together. The man stared at the ceiling. The woman looked toward the foot of the bed, her face scrunched.
“It’s like you’ve got another little toe growing out of the side of your actual toe,” she said.
“It’s called a cor—”
She slapped his shoulder. “Don’t say it. I know what it’s called, I hate that.”
He laughed, pulled her closer.
“You’re feet are disgusting.”
“They didn’t used to be.”
“Wearing work boots for twenty years, twelve-hours-a-day happened.”
She took his large hand into her own, drew it closer to her face. “It’s like a glove made of old, hardened leather, filled with stones. An ogre’s hand.”
“Calluses, that’s all.”
“They didn’t used to be.”
“Swinging sledge hammers, carrying broken rock.”
She moved her leg over his, slid on top of him. He wrapped his arms around her.
“The scar on your belly is ugly,” she said. “It’s all puckered and purple. It’s so raised I can feel it against my skin.”
“It wasn’t always.”
“An ulcer. Surgery. I was supposed to take time off work; let it heal proper. I didn’t.”
She sat upright, straddled him. His face was only just visible in pale moonlight through drawn window shades.
“Your forehead is wrinkled,” she said.
“It didn’t used to be.”
“I got old.”
She leaned in, kissed him. He became aroused. Their lips parted.
“You’ve sure got a lot of complaints,” he said with a soft smile. “But here you are; young, beautiful, naked in my bed. You could have any man you wanted—pretty feet, soft hands, fresh face. Why are you here, darling?” His voice conveyed curiosity, not bitterness.
She turned to the window and the moon glow for a moment, her face expressionless. “I don’t know… Because you don’t care, I think. You’re all worn down.”
by Devon Balwit
I watch them coming as I exit the library, the group from the assisted living home. They approach in an ungainly flock. Some flap, their hands rising and falling, seemingly without volition. Some tilt as they walk, listing right or left. Some stammer. Some bark or bray. Some spin. Some stutter-step, focused inward, mouths agape. Their bodies are squat, doughy, clothes askew. They combine childishness—Velcro gym shoes, hot pink hoodies, Sponge Bob backpacks, glasses with elastic bands—with the tentative motions of the elderly.
Suddenly one notices me. His finger lifts, points. The others look. Their fingers rise and point as well. The first begins to laugh—snort, really. He starts to whisper, then to repeat it louder, snickering and chortling. The others hear, then take it up. They point at me, yerking in chorus. “Look! Look! Look at his hat! What a dumb hat! So dumb! Haw! Haw! Haw!” I reach my hand up and touch my suddenly foolish hat. Is it such a dumb hat? Their fingers waggle. They snort, united: “Yerk, yerk, yerk!” I flee to my car and clamber inside. My cheeks flush. I am a laughingstock.
I no longer wear that hat. It remains where I threw it that day, wedged behind my bureau. Now, when I see them coming, the group from Assisted Living, I scurry away, bare head down.
Just don’t say you’re a witch
“When you meet Jonathan’s father for God’s sake don’t tell him about your coven.”
“Why ever not Kate?”
“He’s a vicar. They tend to be funny about these things.”
“Just say you’re in a women’s book club. He’ll be impressed with that.”
“How lovely to meet you at last. Kate tells me you run a book club. I’ve always been a keen reader myself. What sort of books do you discuss?”
“Various aspects of spirituality mainly.”
“The way ritual can support us. How we can honour each other. The attitude of gratitude.”
“Fascinating. We have a lot in common. Perhaps we could exchange books?”
“I like your future mother-in-law, Jonathan.”
“Kate will be relieved.”
“It’s uncharitable of me to say so, but you don’t know how lucky you are. Mine was an absolute witch.”
“Um. There’s something you should know.”
by Niles Reddick
Ben liked jogging late at night, his paper white legs and glow-in-the-dark running shorts and shoes stood out in the glimmer of street lights. He knew the area was considered high crime, but he also knew where he could score some pot and was willing to take the risk. He knew habitual behaviors were often noticed by others, particularly criminals, so he scanned like a periscope as he ran.
As he rounded a corner on the sidewalk, two hooded black males jumped from behind an oak and grabbed him. One held him and put a gun to his head while the other reached in his running shorts and took the wallet, grabbed the cash, and threw the wallet on the ground. He couldn’t hear their mumbles because of the i-pod speakers blaring R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” and he then felt a tug on his shorts, hands grabbing his cheeks, being bent, and felt the violation by both, one after another. As quickly as it happened, they were gone, and Ben grabbed the wallet and stumbled back to his apartment where he showered and swore he’d never tell, he’d never jog there again, he’d block it from memory, and he’d quit scoring pot from that area of town.
Flashes come to mind when the sky goes dark and he’s driving through town and sees young hooded guys or when he’s in the grocery store and makes eye contact. He swears they smile at him and he doesn’t leave the grocery store until he sees them drive away. He wants to follow them and kill them with his new pistol he keeps in the glove compartment, but he needs to make sure. He’d hate to make a mistake.
When the growl became soulful
by Poornima Laxmeshwar
He could talk about music, tunes coiled in guitar chords and metal melodies layered with heavy rants of deep thinking. He could go on endlessly talking about how rock meant questioning, raising the voice against what is silently accepted as a convention and set up as an expected norm. “Aren’t we all seeking to break these shackles of expected behavioural patterns?” he would ask. Like questioning was some kind of a chemical he could live upon, forever. He was a loner and he took immense pride in staying one. He had like some kind of allergy to people — itching, unhealed wound. “They drip every bit of who they are not and I can’t look at the masks if I need a conversation. I better keep away from them.” We are made up of distances, spaces, limitations with a need to reveal what the world needs to see. None of us can bare our souls and stand tall with a fistful of secrets that needs to be so desperately hidden. But how could I convince him of that?
He was like a box. Complete with four corners — dope, books, metal and more metal. I was a misfit in his box. He didn’t know where to place me. So I chose to be his music. While we crooned songs from Tool, Pantera, Dream Theatre, Black Sabbath, I connected with him like the elements of rhythm to the vocals. Music was our liberation and also our binding agent. So, I manipulated metal and made it a vein that connected to his heart directly, without any limitations. For me it was only a pretext to hold on to him. And Metal proved it’s magic. It gave me what I was desperate for — his solitude in bits and pieces.
The Proposal: 1972
by Abigail Carl-Klassen
Can you get a thousand dollars no questions asked? Bring your car. Make sure it’s full of gas. I’m out West, but I can’t say where. I don’t trust anyone. Come by yourself. You told me that loving you meant choosing peace. I should have listened back then. Before going to Vietnam. Help me. Here’s your chance. If you leave now you can be here in two days. Remember that place I said I’d take you some day if we got married? Go there. Honk three times and you’ll see me. A wild man running out of the woods.
by DL Shirey
The pulse of electronica ends in a diaphanous swirl, the last reverberating echo lingers and fades. The radio voice has a too-cool-for-this-gig delivery and he starts his post-out with a growl, elongating the word to match the musical dregs:
“Weeeeeeee’re spinning more of club scene’s favorite synthsongs on KRDO. Another ten in a row, after this word from our sponsor.”
The jingle has an old-timey feel and the male singer croons a strange, nasally falsetto:
Welcome to your best day yet,
Oh what a feeling it is to forget.
All those thoughts that used to make me sad,
Disappeared with the breakfast I just had.
A woman’s voice blends; harmonizing, cartoon-like:
With my bowl of Forget-Me-Pops,
Good times they just never, never stop.
Tastes great and nutritious too,
I will never forget about you.
Sweety, crunchy, Forget-Me-Pops.
Sweety, crunchy, Forget-Me-Pops.
“Recommended by the Council on Good Mental Health and part of your healthy breakfast, Forget-Me-Pops are delicious, crispy corn Os and oaty Xs, slightly sweetened with a frosty glaze of cloptrazemol. Forget all the bad, remember the good with every spoonful, every morning. Forget-Me-Pops.”
I will never forget about you,
Sweety, crunchy, Forget-Me-Pops.
by Don Francis
Daughter wants to walk. Friend’s.
Also four, our street. Lanes of frustrated aggression, revving engines, last light before the long bend downtown, unwelcome end to a merrily unimpeded cruise north.
AKA: drag strip x two.
I know how.
Little sister wakes up. Poopy. Cantankerous.
Maybe. Call when you get there.
Porch. Watching. Sister squirms.
Marches to intersection. Red. Waits. Green. Proceeds with straight-ahead focus of Simone Biles on the balance beam.
Disappears down friend’s street.
TOMORROW AND TOMORROW (AND TOMORROW)
By Alexandre Pulido
“That’s all I got.” he said, to a smattering of applause.
As soon as he said it, he knew it was true.
He packed up and left the stage. He endured the halfhearted congratulations and passive adulations of the crowd like a seasoned boxer taking his licks for the hundredth time, and well past feeling the sting.
He went to the back. He was looking for the promoter. He found the promoter, and got himself paid off.
Dinner tonight, breakfast tomorrow, and some booze in between. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.
He’d been at this for a long time and it showed. Not much, but enough. Enough for you to know he’d been at it long but not enough for you to wonder what he was still doing plugging away in obscurity like he was and had been these last too many years.
Deep down, he knew he’d had it.
It was time to take that train out to the country, he thought. Time to leave the city and settle down into a life of peace and quiet and mediocrity. An unexamined life. A life that would never be examined because upon examination it would prove too painful to realize that he’d settled into settling.
Maybe it’ll be better, he told himself. Maybe I’ll be happy once I stop kidding myself and get on with it. Maybe.
He smiled then. He had made up his mind.
Tomorrow, he decided. Tomorrow would be the day. Tomorrow would be different. Satisfied, he went home and got drunk alone, forgetting all about it and sleeping long and deep and without any dreams he would remember.
Tomorrow, he’d told himself.
Tomorrow found him back on stage, just as before.
The Hermit In The Sound Barrier
by Soren James
The hermit in the sound barrier shouts like fucking crazy when anything passes. Every time a plane goes by his cave too quick he lets off a cracking shout. He’s one angry fucker. I think he shouts ’cause he don’t like people coming past. He’s been alone a long time – most of history, I reckon. And now planes and shit come past all the time, he shouts something chronic.
In the old days he’d occasionally shout at passing tips of whips. Only a little, mind. Probably thought they were just baby snakes – and he don’t like getting angry at young things. And they were never there long enough to bite him, so he felt safe.
Nothing’s really there long enough to bug him, but he still barks at anything that passes – ’cause he’s a bit of a cunt, really. I mean, he’s safe in his hovel and yet he still gets angry at stuff that can’t hurt him. I don’t get it. Why so angry?
Maybe it’s ’cause he’s lonely. He’s trying to shout Hello, quick as possible, before people pass? Shouts it so quickly it don’t sound like words anymore.
That’s it. Maybe he’s not angry, just pleading. Pleading for someone to stop, or even for a snake to bite him – at least it would be recognition that he exists. He’s probably well up for being bitten, being so lonely and that.
What an idiot, getting so lonely you want to be bitten by passing snakes. You
by Alex J.Rankin
You know what they say?
What’s that then?
It will be the Romanians next, flooding over here. They’re all the same. They just want a free ride and we’re bloody giving it to them.
Tell me about it. A group of them moved in round the corner from me last week. Five of them to one room. You can bet they’re all on housing benefit. The Government should do something about it.
Still, it’s not as bad as that lot trying to Islamify everything. It’s preposterous. Someone should put a stop to them.
Really? I didn’t think the Romanians did that kind of thing.
No, not them. The other lot.
Who’s that then?
Well, all these Middle Eastern types.
Oh right. Yes, awful stuff.
But no one says anything in case they get offended. You can’t say anything these days. One word and they complain about their human rights. They ought to get rid of them in my opinion.
Well, they’re not just going to give up their rights, are they?
No, I mean the courts should.
Take away their rights?
Well, not just theirs; the whole human rights malarkey. Seems to cause more harm than good in this country.
Oh, I see. Yes, terrible thing.
Mind you, it’s probably all part of the big plan.
What plan is that?
You know, their big plan for this New World Order. They say Tony Blair was in on it and George Bush. You can bet Obama’s got a hand in there somewhere.
But they’re not from the Middle East, are they?
No, I’m talking about Governments. Haven’t you heard? Between a few of them they control the economy, the food supply, everything. They say the financial crash was no accident. Orders came from the very top.
But why would they say that? Then we’d know what they were up to.
No, not them. It’s everyone else who said it.
Like the Romanians?
No, they’ve got nothing to do with it.
How do you know? Maybe that’s what they want you to think?
I’m not sure anymore.
Ok, forget it.
Lovely weather we’re having at the moment.
Yes, but they say it’s going to turn next week.
Oh, don’t start.
By Alex Z. Salinas
The ancients have told us that God, in one of His more violent moods, collided with Chaos to form the heavens and the stars.
The explosion was massive, the heat magnificent. Beneath the black ashes, gold specks could be seen sparkling through like will-o’-the-wisp.
Zachary left his desk and walked to the water fountain.
Renae, typing an email, was interrupted by coworkers. They asked her to join them for a walk.
They passed each other in the hallway. Zachary looked at her and smiled; Renae waved and said “Hi.”
They embraced in the empty work parking lot, unaware of the changes to come. The sky was blue and pink when he asked about her gold bracelet. She said that was what her heart was made of.
He held her as she cried, her tears falling heavily upon him. He didn’t mean to hurt her.
“I love you,” he said tenderly.
“I love you more,” she responded, softer.
They sat in a diner, silent. They stared at the blue and pink sky. He grabbed her hand, kissed the top of it, and made a face at her. She stared at him until she couldn’t help but smile.
Now, they both wear bands on their fingers, hers silver, his gold.
“Mine matches the highlight in your hair and that big stupid golden heart in your chest,” he said.
“You better not mess with this poor golden heart again or I’ll cut off your—”
“Got it,” he interrupted, extending his arm to her. “I won’t. Scout’s promise.”
“You were never a scout.”
“You’re in love with a dummy.”
He grabbed her face and kissed her hard, like the first time, two flesh-and-bone forces colliding.
In his heart, he knew he was Chaos.
Jealous of Jersey
by Mark Antony Rossi
People expect a certain manner from people born in Jersey. Our reputation for being stronger than New Yorkers is part of that mystique. It’s hard to live the image down or get upset with folks whose perceptions are continually reinforced by creative media outlets. Goofy governors not helping much either.
If I were a member of a certain culture these comments would be called something else. Might even have a bunch of protesters marching down the street carrying signs. But nobody defends Jersey but those who were born and raised here. We have little choice but to be strong and in your face.
In my biased opinion we are a special group forged in fairness and full of fiber with a passion to surpass the superficial among us. We don’t suffer fools and often use them as additional protein when making a breakfast meal for two. The happy-go-lucky make us suspicious. Honest people are seldom entertaining.
The facts always find allies in Jersey. And I think this is what pisses people off about us. We need facts to stand out. There’s no Mount Rushmore in Jersey. No Grand Canyon. No Empire State Building. There’s just us –a free and fact loving folk who won’t dodge a fight because all we can do is move forward.
We are not afraid to admit we got nothing fancy to dazzle your imagination. Two balls and two fists have beaten a path to victory for the bulk of our crew. Maybe that scares people. What scares Jersey is falling asleep and waking up sounding and looking like the rest of the country. We stand out because we stand up.
Keep that in mind when you make another Turnpike joke. Because chances are this week you backed down from wife or your boss or maybe these two are one and the same. We don’t back down. We understand your fury. Please try the mirror. We understand your jealousy. I’d shut my window too. We get the humor. Often fear of greatness forces the weak to make sense of their predicament by attempting to cut down another. We are still here. We stand out. We stand up. We are Jersey. You are jealous.
by Phil Temples
“I have definitive news, Mr. Levinstein. The results of your MRI are back.”
The balding, 50-year-old store keeper fidgeted uncomfortably in the plush leather chair of the doctor’s office while waiting the news about the stomach pains that had plaguing him for the past several months.
The doctor held up the radiogram for Levinstein to see.
“Do you see this mass here? I don’t know how to explain it,” said the physician, but somehow, some way, you are pregnant. By about eight months, I’d say.”
Before Levinstein could pick his jaw off the floor, the doctor added, “More bad news, I’m afraid. It’s going to be a breech birth.”
by M.J. Friday
On his yellow jacket, Special Assistance.
He gives no assistance, let alone special, to the anemic elderly man spewing up thick red spurts of blood on the shiny grey floor of Gatwick’s Terminal 2 Departure Lounge.
Special Assistance continues failing to fulfill his jacket’s motto, reading The Sun while sitting on the side of the information desk, one foot swinging in the air. The anemic man’s daughter runs to and from the Information Desk, trying to hurry along a different man on the phone.
‘Medics coming,’ the man on the phone says.
A traveler goes up Special Assistance and interrupts his reading.
‘Are you aware there is man throwing up blood over there? Could do with some reassurance, if nothing else.’
Special Assistance slowly looks up and over at the chaotic, coughing event.
‘Not aware,’ he says shaking his head.
He folds his paper over and slips off the side of the Information Desk. He then spends five minutes wondering around the scene but never going up to the poorly man or his frantic daughter. He looks lost, useless, unimportant.
The medic arrives and takes over. Special Assistance goes back to his paper.
Feeding the birds
by Fridrik Solnes
On the way to the pond Bucky ate about a third of the baguette while he sat on the back of my bicycle. Bucky pulls off a big piece of crust and throws it like a Frisbee. It twacks a duck across the eyes and the duck shakes it’s head and quacks. I have developed a method where I roll the soft bread into balls that bounce off their backs with a hollow sound and sink before the ducks can get at them. Bucky’s just like me. He gets bored so easily that I kind of feel sorry for him. After a while the game is up and the ducks retreat into the reeds with their ducklings. Bucky is feeding the seagulls now, throwing bigger pieces further out. Like some magnificent hive-mind we start working towards the same goal. I throw small pieces close to the reeds, this time without rolling them up into balls. Then the two parts of the plan come together like two hands high-fiving. One of the ducklings goes after a small piece just as a seagull sweeps down to grab one of Bucky’s crusts but it changes it’s mind and grabs the duckling instead. The seagull flies away with he duckling spread-eagled in its beak. The word spread-eagled makes me laugh because the motherfucker looks nothing like an eagle. The older ducks paddle in circles like crazy. “Top of the food chain yo!” I yell at them. “Dumb fucking ducks!” Bucky says. I smile because this is nature and we too are part of nature. I ruffle up his blond hair and I can feel the warmth exuding from his scalp it feels like the warmth rising up from the sunbaked pier and I know that’s the warmth of God’s palm.
No Laughing Matter
by Alex Z. Salinas
I’d read my last name, Salinas, came from the salt mines of old Spain. Also read lots of guys died there. All for some tiny white specks. Ridiculous.
My teacher said those little specks are more valuable than all the gold on earth. “Revolutionized the world,” he said about salt.
Idiot. I’d take the gold.
Thinking about my last name got me thinking about my crabby uncle Henry. Real salty guy, that guy. He gets extra salty when he drinks, which is all the time.
He caught me laughing at him one night, said I was a judgmental little prick because I’m really laughing at myself since him and I come from the same place. Then I started thinking about those salt mines in old Spain, all those guys who died in there. All the blood.
Funny thing is, I stopped laughing.
By Konstantina Sozou-Kyrkou
‘Leonidas has the best sea food around,’ Dad says and shifts into gear.
‘I want souvlaki.’ I punch my little fist against the back of his black car seat. The belt crosses over my mouth, like the sellotaped mouth of a burglary victim.
‘I’d like souvlaki-,’ Mum says.
‘Rubbish!’ Dad takes a swift swerve around a narrow bend, the fingers of mum’s right hand against the dashboard like red-scarved, red-faced women.
‘Who’s Mimoza? I don’t want any Albanians in my house,’ Dad’s car bounces along the bumpy dirt road. The belt scratches against my throat.
‘They’re nice people. And her daughter could play with ours,’ Mum says.
‘Don’t even think about it,’ Dad says, Mum’s fingers flutter against the dashboard, a seagull’s wings trapped in an oil spill, her wedding band a broken bottle neck choking it dead.
‘What do you mean study art? Computing is the job of the future.’ Dad breaks hard, tires screeching against fir cones the nightly storm had carried from the woods into the road. Mum and I bend forward as if in supplication, her right hand against the dashboard squirming.
‘Trust me. I know what’s best for you,’ Dad says. ‘Giorgos is the ideal husband for you.’ His foot’s firm against the accelerator. My right hand against the dashboard, a leaf driven by the current of the river against a rock. No bottle neck. That’s the time. I stretch my leg, slamming on the brake, longer and deeper until I slide under and through the seat belt. I roll down the window and jolt out. I’m hanging from the wing mirror now, fresh air taking my breath away, hair lashing at my face. I glimpse at mum’s folded hands in the mirror but I don’t know whether they’re praying or applauding, or both.
The Pepperoni God
by Alex Z. Salinas
When people ask me if I believe in God, I sometimes say yes. I sometimes also say no, but I’ve learned it’s safer to say yes. You get less stares, the stupid kind as if you called someone’s mom a ho.
I used to stack boxes with a skinny white guy named Alvin. I was 19 then, he was about 20 or 21, tall, red flaming pimples all over his face. He was a clown, but mostly a good guy. Hard worker. Pretty quiet unless you got him going about Jackie—his ex—or the Dallas Cowboys.
Stacking boxes all day with Alvin, I got to know him. We kept entertained. One night after our shift, we took off our shirts to see who had a better chest—no homo. I noticed his nipples were the size of small saucers. They looked like the pepperonis you get at Subway.
So I started calling him Pepperoni. He liked it.
He would ride the bus to and from work every day. I offered him a ride home one night. He refused. The next night, I insisted. He said okay, but to drop him off at a corner store, said he would walk home from there, that where he lived was not really safe for me to drive. I gave him a look, but I didn’t challenge him.
The next day, he didn’t show up for work. Turned out he was shot dead the night before. An investigator dropped by the warehouse and let us know, said it was a wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time kind of thing.
I couldn’t believe it. Still can’t.
I sometimes say I believe in God, but not because Jesus is in my heart.
Guys like Pepperoni, they’re the real messiahs. Most times, we don’t even know it until we’re saved.
by G. H. Finn
Crouching in darkness, beneath a bodhi-tree, he heard voices.
“Arjun, which grave?” asked the first.
“Any, Sanjay. Just dig up a body. See if there’s jewellery.”
Two men. In his cemetery.
Jasmine, lotus, earthy patchouli and fragrant frangipani-blossoms scented the night.
He was chewing the remains – yesterday’s left-overs – when he saw them.
Had they no respect?
He became angry, walking toward them, sandals flip-flopping against leathery feet, shouting, “Stop! These are my graves! My graveyard!”
The digging paused. “A night-watchman?” said Sanjay.
“Kill him,” said Arjun, “He’s an old man. He won’t put up much struggle.”
Sanjay nodded, “Easier when they can’t fight back.”
The night-watchman let the illusion fade, showing its true self – a huge, demonic Rakshasa with flaming-hair, bulging blood-red eyes and enormous fangs.
It was insatiably hungry.
By nature it ate human flesh, killing for meat. But as the years went by it read the sacred Hindu Vedas, and Buddhist teachings.
The Rakshasa decided to become a better person. It vowed only to eat corpses – to avoid adding to its karmic burden through killing. It had eaten the dead in this cemetery for generations. It tried to lead a good life, so it might be born as something better, in its next incarnation… It had been so hard.
The grave-robbers attacked, swinging spades.
The Rakshasa growled. Razor-sharp claws eviscerated Sanjay– intestines spilled from the wound, falling, writhing, snakelike upon the floor – It wrenched out innards and stuffed gory entrails into its hideously fanged mouth.
Arjun stabbed. The Rakshasa decapitated him. Bloody fountains gushed from Arjun’s severed neck-stump. Gaping-mouthed, it sucked the arterial flow into its hungry stomach.
As it gulped blood, the Rakshasa was philosophical. “It’s hard to fight ones nature,” it thought, “But the thing about reincarnation is that you get another chance…”
When the Hills Were Bigger
by Alex Z. Salinas
We had never seen anything like Crystal Hill, although it had always been just around the corner from our crumbling homes. The first time we saw it, not long after we became experts on our bicycles and began to explore the places beyond the street corner, it was like I had no control of the words that came out of my mouth.
“Holy fudge! It looks like a big green crystal.”
And that’s how I named it. The name stuck. From the bottom of the hill, we had to crane our necks to see the top. No kidding.
Pedaling uphill burned our leg muscles like we had never felt, but you see, the payoff was letting gravity take us down. It was the head rush long before we would mess with the stuff they told us not to in school. Some of us would never recover from that.
We once made the mistake of rolling down Crystal Hill with our bodies, tumbling the way they do in the movies. We were all covered in burrs—we called them stickers—the kind that are green and firm and painful.
We rode down the hill until you could see brown intertwining streaks we carved into it with our tires.
We enjoyed the hill for a while and then, after a while, we didn’t. I don’t remember our last ride down. It’s always the first time that sticks with you like a green burr.
Thinking on it now, I never want to see Crystal Hill again. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind and want to take my kids there. Maybe it would be fun. But maybe it would be just a bump off the side of the road around the corner from crumbling houses.
Mom Was a Looker
by Paul Beckman
Growing up we had the “men” come to our neighborhood. There was, Irv the ragman with his scale—the moneybag tied to his belt, Sid the dry cleaner in his bright white windowless truck, Bernie the veggie man pulled along by an old swayback horse, his wagon filled with fruits and vegetables, ringing his bell at every stop, Marv the fish man driving the canvas sided truck with boxes of ice, filled with fish lying on their sides—surprised looks on their faces. The grocer Mickey and Jake the butcher making their deliveries from their station wagons. And, Mr. Landsfeld, our landlord in his shiny black Buick, out collecting his rents.
The only man not around was my father, so Mom traded what she wanted for what the men wanted, and since my Mom was what they called a “looker” we never went without.
Speeding on a Snowy Road
by Sara Codair
The road is the Oreo he carelessly licked, discarded, and tossed to the ground. It’s slick with his spittle and leftover cream. It spins as I speed across it. I swerve when my tires hit the frozen saliva. Specks of white spray up onto my windshield and obscure my vision. The sweat on my palms makes it hard to grip the wheel, but I hold on. I keep my foot on the gas and my eyes on the road. I need to get away from him, from the place where he used me up and left me for the ants.
by Alex Z. Salinas
Donny stared vacantly at the body of his estranged uncle Juan.
He noticed how makeup had made his uncle’s dark-skinned goateed face look like candlewax.
Donny was in this very position two weeks ago, looking down at his uncle, but not in a funeral home. It was in the backyard of his childhood home, where Juan had once regularly downed brisket and beers at barbecues.
In the dream, Donny’s dead uncle had sprung to life, sat upright, clear fluids dripping from his nose, and Medusa-stared right into Donny’s frightened eyes.
Donny walked away from the body toward the exit door in the funeral home. Before he left, he stopped, turned to face his uncle. Donny’s heart pounded so furiously he felt it in his throat. He jammed the nails of his pointer fingers into the fleshy bottoms of his thumbs, half expecting the corpse to rise again.
New Kid on the Block
by Paul Beckman
My neighbor got a baby goat, a kid as they’re called, and it was cute as a kid can be. My kids (who are not baby goats) would walk across the field to look at it and talk to it.
They asked our neighbor, Mr. Swanson, what he called the goat and he said, “Goat” and Charley and Annie, my eight year old twins didn’t understand and asked if they could call the kid something besides Goat and Mr. Swanson said he didn’t think it was a good idea but to go ahead and do what they wanted.
Since it was a girl goat and would be call a doe when it grew up they decided to name her Doe-ris which sounded like Doris their Aunt. They became close to Doe-ris and would visit her every day after school and she seemed to be growing before their eyes.
Annie would sit by the fence feeding Do-ris pieces of apple and telling her about her troubles with her girlfriends and ask Do-ris for advice. Charlie would do the same except he would talk about sports and Do-ris seemed interested in that also. She was always a little less interested when the apples were gone.
Charlie and Annie went over to say goodbye to Doe-ris before we left on our trip across country and three weeks later when we returned they ran over before unloading their car to say hello to Do-ris and there was a kid in the pen and no Do-ris to be found.
They came home and said Mr. Swanson told them to ask me why they shouldn’t name the new kid on the block and I had to sit them down and tell them. I left them stunned and holding hands and when I came back into the house Charlie asked, “Do you think that the Swansons ever had real kids like us?”
by Jake Zawlacki
Her fingertips the same shade of stoplights as her lips. A cigarette hangs between her fingers. The singer pours long vowels and drawn consonants from his lungs. Smoke sneaks from one mouth through the next. Eyes linger a half second too long. Her teeth separate, “What are you looking for in a place like this?”
My eyes dance from the polished brass on stage to the swing to the beat to her cigarette. Her cheeks blush. Her eyes forced. “When I find it I’ll let you know.”
She looks away. Pool balls crack and explode.
Sorry, Not Sorry
by Alex Z.Salinas
From: Hendricks, Johnathan
Date: 21 January 2019
To: Turner, William
Subject: Notice (URGENT)
This is tough news for me to break to you. Effective immediately, your employment with AmeriTech Solutions as Vice President of Sales Operations has ceased. The Board of Trustees and I found this a difficult decision to make.
In the decade that you ran Sales Ops, you helped us get here. It was your idea that we invest in REX-23.
Nobody thought REX would turn out the way it did. REX’s calculated sales planning and strategies—completely unaffected by human error—increased our profit margin by 300 percent in the last two quarters. REX projects we can double that figure next year alone. The thing sifts through Excel spreadsheets faster than we can make a cup of coffee. REX predicts our market faster than we can.
And REX never takes two-hour lunch breaks, calls in sick, or is away from his desk playing 18 holes. REX is, for lack of a better word, perfect where you fall short.
And REX doesn’t require a salary. I’ve searched for any wiggle room to keep you on payroll, and believe me, I’ve lost sleep in doing so, but the financials aren’t there, buddy.
I know you’re shocked and probably angry right now. REX estimated that could last 5 weeks, 4 days, and 7 hours, but please understand this was only a business decision. I don’t want our personal relationship to suffer. Remember all the Christmas parties we celebrated together? Heck, our wives still go to Zumba together!
You’ll receive a generous severance package. Also, keep the company phone. That’s on us.
Please turn in your badge and company AMEX to HR as soon as you can.
Stay in touch, old friend. You know where to find me.
by Mark Antony Rossi
I am a man.
And like most men my interior life is a simple set of scaffolding
clothing a skeletal backdrop of values
And like most men I alter my past memories to suit
my present needs and the needs of my future presence
And like most men I adore women but have not a single clue
about the slightest thing floating in their mysterious minds
And like most men I believe the federal government is too big
and its citizens view point’s way too small
And like most men I choose Coke over Pepsi yet would rather see
Dr Pepper than actually get my prostate examined
And like most men I mock the absurdity of animal rights while
habitually playing with my cat and walking my dog
And like most men I secretly wish for a blow job and a bologna sandwich
But settle for a healthy dinner and a shower date
I am a man. Deal with it.
12 Baby Steps (And Still Lost)
by Mark Antony Rossi
People generally don’t change. So when I don’t like you the first time — good chance I won’t give a rat’s ass the next time either. Maybe it’s my faith in consistency. Maybe it’s my lack of faith in humanity. But like the old cowboy movies the loner isn’t a loner because he’s antisocial — he’s alone because he can only rely on himself.
Perhaps I have trust issues. But I can’t take you seriously if you sleep with a bottle or make love to a needle. It’s your business if you screw a robot but don’t call me friend. Humanity is a failed venture if we continue to trust animals more than people and if we count on machines more than men. What value are we assigning our species? What are we really saying about our place in the universe?
I have no problem with a higher power. But how do we stay creatures of free will if we continue to ask for help? Spiritual drug addicts are ultimately no different than moonshine drinkers at midnight. Running away from the mirror never erases the image. And twelve baby steps often lead to deeper confusion. Finding God for most of us means little if you still haven’t found yourself.
By Levi J.Mericle
His psychiatrist always told him, his hallucinations were due to the traumatic loss of his mother as a child. The way she died was horrifying and was a potentially scarring event for anyone, let alone a nine year old. He suggested for his mental well-being that he should start over and not look back. So, he visited his mother’s grave, placed fresh flowers and said goodbye.
Fredric fled from his current situation, from his family, his friends and he left the United States to travel to Italy. He left behind everything he knew to start fresh. He met a girl near Sicily who he connected with in almost every way. They rented an apartment together, bought a puppy and were ultimately happy. And his hallucinations vanished.
It was a Friday at around noon. The mail was just delivered to their apartment complex; Gabriela walked in the door and handed it to Fredric. He took the stack of letters and began thumbing through. He looked through bill after bill until, in the middle of the mail was a postcard from his home town. A piece of tape held a withered pink carnation petal in the left hand corner under the text. He began reading the familiar handwritten words as his heart began beating faster and harder.
“I missed you baby, why did you leave me?”
“I told you I would be with you always but you still left.”
“Turn around Freddy, Mommy’s right here!”
By Len Kuntz
We were twins, but it was more like an arranged marriage.
Mother dressed us alike. We both had cut-across bangs, matching sweaters and skirts. When I said, “But I’m not a girl, I’m a boy,” Mother slapped me and said, “No back talk.”
Those were rough times.
Dad was gone or dead so no one knew.
At the grocery store people always stopped and commented. “Aren’t your girls just the cutest?”
Mother home-schooled us, which meant we sat watching TV or coloring or making up games to pass the time which seemed like a horizon without end.
One night she took us to the circus. There was a two-headed man. Ed-With-Two-Heads. Ed One and Ed Two. They bickered and joked. The crowd loved it, tossing coins and bills in the straw by their feet. It might have been more than a hundred dollars in just one night.
A week later we heard the Siamese twins died.
Mother got an idea. She strapped us together side by side and pulled a long nightgown over our heads. One of my arms stuck out of a sleeve and Sis’s out of the other sleeve.
Mother looked pleased for once, said, “Perfect,” called us Jackie and Jean, even though those were not our names.
The crowds liked us just as much as Ed-With-Two-Heads. Maybe even more. We were rich for a while, or Mother was.
The hoax worked for years until Sis fell in love with The Strong Man and ran off with him.
Mother sold me to an uncle who sold me to a neighbor who sold me to a scrupulous doctor from Detroit.
Now I run my own circus. Every night, people come in droves. They like oddities and I know just what to give them.
When You Decide You’ve Had Enough and Want To Take Others With You
by Michael C.Keith
Craig Marcus sits alone at a table at the El Fuego Cantina dragging on a Marlboro and taking in fresh air from a portable oxygen tank. The sun is half way down in the New Mexico sky and the plaza is nearly empty because the heat has kept the tourists inside. Across the small patio from him is an elderly couple huddled in the shadow of a Cinzano umbrella peering in his direction. When he stares back at them, they turn away abruptly. Go ahead take a good long look, he thinks, before deliberately removing the air tubes from his nostrils and placing the fiery tip of his cigarette to their vinyl ends.
I Saw Ellen Today
by Paul Beckman
for the first time in twenty plus years. I was at the airport and we were both on moving sidewalks going in opposite directions and noticed each other at the same time. She smiled first and I followed with a “hello” smile wondering if and how I knew this attractive woman and what her name was.
American 264 to Atlanta now boarding gate 14.
We were closing on each other; Prom, I thought. The closer we got the harder I tried to place her. Prom, that’s it. Prom.
I felt her hand touch mine. “Ellen,” she said, and we continued on our separate sidewalks and I remembered her with tenderness and longing and realized I was letting her pass out of my life again but what could I do? I had a plane to catch.
I lifted my suitcase preparing to go over the railing after her and ask her to join me as the Aragoni Family was directed to pick up a courtesy phone. I paused, role-playing our conversation in my mind as we moved farther and farther apart and then I set my bag back down and continued on, thinking, Next time.
by Anushree Nande
Today was the day. Lucy ran after the boy, her tail wagging, tongue half out of her mouth, impatient to start playing with the football he held in his hand. The gate of the garden across the road gave a tiny creak as he opened and closed it. He waited for a minute, holding his breath, waiting for some sort of acknowledgement from the universe of his double digit status. But the neighbourhood remained as still as it always was this early on a Saturday. One hour later, he could taste the dirt he had slid into before, his thoughts only on the ball. He imagined his mum’s look of loving despair at all the grass stains on his shorts, but couldn’t resist a final sliding tackle. He was allowed to be a little reckless now that he was grown up. Satisfied, he walked towards the porch, his dog close behind him. They could both smell the baking just out of the oven. The little boy smiled. As good as it was being allowed to go out on his own, it was even better to have a place where there were always cookies waiting for him.
by Kapka Nilan
Commuters, shoulder to shoulder, wrapped up in silence. Encompassing stillness in a sea of hats and scarves. Suddenly loud music breaks the silence. A few heads turn around, the rest pretend to look out the window. There is nothing to see.
A voice speaking loudly on his phone . An angry voice, speaking faster and louder ‘………., ?,.,, maan? ‘… …… da m …ve ry ve ry ……..yo maan!’
A little shiver passes through the sea of hats and scarves. The voice has a choppy urban accent, probably Jamaican. No need to turn around to check. I do and see a black face in a sea of white faces staring at their phones.’……yo yo, no maan, raight ..’ the voice quavered. Then it suddenly stops and silence prevails again.
I am heading to the door. My stop is next. A woman in front of me glances at the back one last time, trying to cover her smile. Her hands are incredibly small and white, with short white fingers. I can’t help staring at their whiteness.
by Phil Rossi
First came the warplanes, then the sirens. Machine guns crackled, explosions peppered the hills. The squadron burst through the clouds, dive-bombing the valley.
Through the smoke, children dashed for the shelter of the citadel. Artemis joined his schoolmates in the scramble for safety. Once inside the stone walls of the citadel, the children huddled with their mothers and the nuns, as their fathers manned the mountainside, fighting off the invaders.
Once the battles stopped, the children would race for the train station to greet their fathers. Artemis recalled his turmoil as he pleaded with the heavens for Papa to step off the train.
Artemis never forgot the traffic churning in his stomach and swimming through his eyes. Every child shed tears at the train station. Tears of joy for the living, anxiety for the wounded. Sadness over the slain, as flag-draped coffins rolled off the final rail cars.
Papa survived playing soldier but the grownups lied. More wars were declared, and once Artemis came of age, he joined the military as an airman.
When the great offensive arrived, Artemis took his position in the bombardier basket. As the armada flew for the mountainside, the trouble whistles of the enemy village sounded.
Through the sky, pill boxes dotted the woodlands like rabbit warrens. Artemis gripped the stick shift of the cargo, ready to unleash the fire on the men burrowed in the hillside below.
Artemis knew all about the chaos and confusion on the young minds fleeing the schools beyond these front lines. Artemis pleaded for each child to reach the nuns, mothers, and stone walls of their citadel.
by Andrew J. Hogan
“I have to get up a lot at night to use the toilet.”
“What’d the doctor say?”
“She stuck her finger up my ass and said I had the prostate of a ninety-year-old.”
“You are ninety years old.”
“What’s your point?”
“She say it was cancer?”
“She told me not to worry about ninety year old cancer cells. I’ll die from the flu or a fall before they can get me.”
“So, when I get up to go to the toilet at night, my wife’s always sitting on it.”
“Can’t you wait until she finishes?”
“She’ll never finish. She’s dead.”
“You left her corpse sitting on the toilet?”
“God, no. I buried her in South Lawn nine months ago.”
“That’s all the way across town.”
“Why I don’t remember the funeral?”
“So, you’ve got a ghost.”
“Scares the shit out of me every time I turn on the bathroom light.”
“Remember who you’re talking to.”
“Why don’t you use the guest bathroom?”
“I do, but it’s a long way. I get too woken up and can’t go back to sleep.”
“Maybe until your wife moves on, you should sleep in the guest room.”
“I tried that, but she’s always lying in the guest bed and won’t move over.”
“Ah. I’ve got an idea.”
“I think you’re in hell.”
For chrissake, how can that be? I’m here talking to you, my pastor, right?”
“Well, I’ve committed some peccadillos the congregation never found out about.”
The Common Man
by Matthew Allcock
I couldn’t tell you his name. He’s always there. Like some spectre, a constant reminder. Who is he, I wonder? And how to describe someone you’ve never met? This is what I think. I’ll call him the Common Man.
He doesn’t have a name. I think I said that already.
He refuses to discuss serious matters, political, religious or otherwise. The careworn look on his cracked, muddy face suggests things had been different once.
If he finds himself splitting hairs between arguments, he’ll resort to points of fact to disentangle himself from the mire. His opinions are always expressed as such and he wears around him a cloak of anonymity.
A profusion of dark facial hair is still ripe with colour after all these years. He has no one, an estranged mother, a distant father, and his principles take root in an early Christian upbringing that refuses to budge. Little does he know how much he is directed by this.
He hangs with other alcoholics at the fountain on the common each day, but his participation is transitory, liminal, somehow abstract.
The Common Man maintains a remarkable serenity that masks a virulent streak of bitterness, anger and discontent. Whether it was through a rare kind of knowing wisdom that he overcame this facet of his nature one will never know. Perhaps it had rather been the result of years of frustrated desire and hollowed out hope, beating him down to a semi-confused, pottering weariness.
Yet there is something different about the Common Man: his stride, confidence, and contemplative face suggest otherwise. Something to indicate all this has been judged out, reflected upon, voluntary, deemed right. Like the sails on a ship deliberately brought to mast so the wind can carry you along as it must.
The Common Man has not always lived in this country.
His goals are unapparent, as if undergoing a steady and unnoticeable process of negation. He was educated when the meaning of the word was different.
He has no work. He is calm, composed, or ready to flip. Hobbies, interests, there were some. A deep down fear of being left alone though this has always felt what he’s been driving at.
A heavy smoker with a deep, dark secret. Like every other character.
By Katie Lewington
I have a mystery benefactor. By that I mean, somebody is paying forty quid or so into my bank account every weekend and I have come to enjoy that attention. It will pay for pedicures, waxing, spray tans and a loaf of bread.
About a month or two later the money stops and an email pops into my spam folder reading
You will need to repay that money
How, I am hasty to reply and in 4 days I have an answer.
Tell your boyfriend to stop spraying his ignorance onto that war memorial and be grateful he doesn’t have to fight in a war.
Well, I am deeply embarrassed. The whole town has been rumouring who it is graffiting the war memorial and I know it may be Jase, my boyfriend, and his mates.
I make a decision.
Dialling his number. ‘Jase?’ I say. ‘Yeah. Oh hold on’ I tug my ear. ‘Sorry, my ear just popped. I have something to tell you’
Never Know Who You’re Sleeping Next To
by Abigail Van Kirk
His black satin sheets felt cool against her fingertips, and with the motion they rippled and rustled away from her. From the open window came drips of sunshine and the kind of breeze that spoke of the advent of autumn, but perhaps to her it felt colder than reality would have it.
Vacancy drained any of the excited light from her startling green eyes from before she hurried into his room; they glanced around now at barenness. Seven o’clock in the morning was the agreement made for a picnic in the park, nothing unusual for them but still no less treasured to either of them, she had been so sure. After he had not come, she made her way to the rooms in which he had been staying and barged in on nothing but a thick, choking stench, the barest necessities to furnish a room and an unmade bed, and perhaps a mystery she would never want to figure out.
My Mother’s first Winter in Germany
by John Guzlowski
My mother never thought she’d survive that first winter. She had no coat, no hat, no gloves, just what she was wearing when the Germans came to her house and killed my grandma and took my mom to the camps. A soldier saved her life there. He saw her struggling to dig beets in the frozen earth with her hands, and he asked her if she could milk a cow. She said, “Yes,” and he took her to the barn where the cows were kept and raped her there.
Later, the cows kept her from freezing and gave her milk to drink.
A Story My Mother Heard in the Slave Labour Camp
by John Guzlowski
They took me from my children, three little ones.
They said the children would be useless in the camps in Germany. They were too young to do anything but cry for food.
I begged the soldiers to let me take them with me. I said I’d care for them and do the work for both. I even dropped on my knees and wept, clung to their boots, but they said no. I asked them who would feed them, and they said surely a neighbour would.
I couldn’t stop weeping, and they said if I didn’t, they would shoot the children.
So I left them behind in Dębno.
Birth in the DP Camps
by John Guzlowski
My mother remembered the time after the war when the women struggled to hold on to their babies because they knew giving birth to them would kill them, because their wombs were still in the war, still weak and tortured and beaten, still kicked and stabbed and wounded, still bleeding and hoping, still falling and slipping and starving, still kneeling and begging and weeping, still everything that had happened since the day the Germans put her and the girls from her village on the train to bring them to this Germany where every birth was a struggle in the mud for a breath.
Tourists in Hell
by John Guzlowski
When my mother was still alive, I felt that I could get to the truth of their experience, but now that she’s dead, I see that I’ll never know what happened to her. And I realize also that finally I’ll never understand what she experienced.
I’m just pretty much only a tourist in her life—poking here and there, looking around for some souvenir. The truth of her life, in all of its misery and suffering, is something I’ll never know.
And I think my mother would be happy with that.
Please feel free to add comments and thoughts. We’d welcome your input.